Modo’s Last Garden Stroll

Little Quasimodo the hunchback duckling is now gone, although in a good way.

His back slowly straightened out, the hole in his head mostly disappeared beneath healthy fluff, his nub of a wing gradually lengthened to almost equal the other, he’s eating and drinking like a champ, and his mobility is quite good. One eye still looks strange but other than that’s he’s thriving. In two day’s time he transformed from an injured, weak, and misshapen little newborn into an active, thriving ball of fluff who managed to scale to the top of his stuffed bear, hop onto the lip of the crate he was in, and almost topple off into the waiting jaws of Dane the mangy rescue mutt lurking just below.

They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Clearly, we’re not duckling-proofed around here so, after nourishing fantasies all day Saturday of taking an older Modo out to paddle along contentedly behind my kayak whenever I go, I went online instead and Googled bird rescue centers in Boise and found the Ruth Melinchar Bird Center (an offshoot of Animals in Distress Association) which opens every year from April to September and takes in thousands (literally) of orphaned wild ducklings and goslings to raise and then release  back into the wild.

(Boise is a major nesting area for mallards and Canada geese and in the spring it’s not at all unusual to see cars on major city thoroughfares careening to a halt as a mother leads her newly hatched brood out across the street heading for the nearest body of water because nobody wants to run over a string of babies.  Nobody.)

I freely admit I was fighting back tears while driving over to the center to deliver Modo into his next life.  Turns out nursing a fragile baby bird through it’s first couple of days is something of a bonding experience…you wouldn’t believe how fast it happens…and I was beyond sad about giving him up, scared that he might get lost and pecked to death by a band of unsupervised ducklings, and worried that I might have already screwed him up for life by letting him imprint on me in the first place.

(A typical Mother’s Day.)

But the rescue center was delightful, the women working there were cheerful and grateful I’d brought him in, and they let me go back and peek into the tub that held eleven other shy ducklings nestled contentedly in a corner before they slipped Modo in with them.  At first I was glad that he barely paused before heading straight for the others, but then he started pecking at them which drove them all away, at which point I swung from the fear of him being pecked to death to an uneasy feeling that he might grow up to be one of those detestable drakes that chase down females and tear clumps of their feathers out while trying to mate.

I also found myself irrationally wanting to apologize for his bad manners and explain that he might have been brain-injured, but the women assured me his aggressiveness was a good sign.

In any case, he’s on his way now, saved from a cold and certain death on our driveway for some other kind of certain death later on, hopefully after he’s had a chance to fly and swim and mate and nest and fish and migrate at least a couple of times beforehand, although I’ll never know.  But anyway that’s what I’d like for him.

Or her.  I asked and was told there’s no way to tell gender when they’re still that young so I can add that to the list of things I’ll never know.

Anyway, I took one last video of Modo out in the garden with which to remember these two halcyon days of surrogate motherhood by.  Here’s all one minute and thirty-four seconds of it for anyone interested in seeing how much he improved:

(I just discovered that this video is no longer available. Evidently, when I deleted by Google+ account it deleted my YouTube account as well. First do no harm? Right. Sigh…sorry for the tease.)

Also, for anyone interested here’s the contact information for the bird rescue center:

Phone: 208-338-0897

Address: 4650 N. 36th Street, Boise, Idaho 83703

I gave them a very, very grateful donation before I left and if anyone else feels so inspired I figured I could at least make it easy for them.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013





Modo: A little hunchback duckling.

I walked out this morning to empty the trash and discovered a brand new duckling lying on his side in the driveway and struggling weakly against the cold concrete.  He’d been abandoned due to some deformity.  One wing is shortened and rather useless and has a little hunch on the shoulder above it.  Couldn’t just leave him lying there so I brought him in.


He’s been steadily improving as the hours go by.  I’ve taken him out to the garden a few times to observe his mobility.  He was still falling over on his weak side but was beginning to occasionally recover without help.


And, per advice from John Gray, the bird king over at the ever fabulous Going Gently, I’ve given him warmth, water, food, and a stuffed bear, which he’s really taken to.


I’m not quite sure what to do next.  Rescue center maybe?  I’m in a quandary as I’m not an advocate of domesticating wildlife yet this little guy could never survive on his own.  Shit.

In the meantime I’ve named him Quasimodo but am calling him Modo for short.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Rhythmic sea lions–what’s a scientist to do?

Here’s a piece that caught my attention this morning.  A Santa Cruz researcher trained a young sea lion to keep a musical beat which, evidently, is considered a breakthrough discovery.  Here’s the video:

What really surprised (and confused) me was the young man’s assertion that to date, scientists have maintained that mammals are incapable of keeping a beat, that it’s an ability specific to humans and some birds capable of vocal mimicry.

Huh?  Don’t they watch Youtube?

Here’s a dog tapping his foot to some rock music:

And here’s a golden retriever grooving to a jazz beat:

Honestly, scientists can be so brilliant and yet so clueless sometimes.  Especially where animals are concerned.  Of course their position is an incredibly difficult one considering what they have to do to these little companions on a daily basis to produce all the miracles we demand of them.  I imagine if it was me doing the experimenting that I’d have to deny any of them were intelligent, sentient beings capable of love and suffering, too.


As always, I continue hoping for a shift in paradigm on this one.  And it may be coming.

NEXT POST: The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness–a group of leading neuroscientists announces that many animals are indeed conscious beings capable of experiencing stimuli the way that humans do.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Poisonous pips and pits: Dangerous for dogs or urban legend?


In an earlier post I mentioned that our dog, Dane, loves apple cores more than life itself and in the following comments womencyclists mentioned that apple seeds are considered toxic and potentially harmful for dogs.  Feeling a strong mixture of alarm (OMG! Have I been poisoning my dog?!!) and luck (thank God he hasn’t died yet!!!) I dove into the world wide web to see what I could find on the subject.

Research is a little like a tic for me.

An initial Google search of apple seeds poisonous for dogs provided around 700,000 hits from blogs, media outlets, pet websites and forums, Yahoo answers, veterinary websites, etc.  And each one that I read confirmed that apple seeds contain a compound called amygdalin, a cyanide and sugar compound which…under the right conditions…can degrade into hydrogen cyanide.  Hydrogen cyanide is the bad thing.

A wave of realization and horror washed over me, followed by a wave of relief, followed by another question.

(Always a niggling question.)

“Does a real dog eating a real apple core provide the right conditions to convert amygdalin to hydrogen cyanide?”

I wanted to see the studies, read the case histories of all the actual dogs poisoned by actual apple seeds.  Or people for that matter…poisoned people would do.  Or poisoned rodents or monkeys or song birds or cats or other mammals who would joyfully ingest apple seeds given half a chance only to vomit a few times, fall into seizures, or even roll over and die.

Frankly, this information proved harder to come by…even on the Internet where you can find just about anything.  In fact, after about an hour and a half of searching all I came up with was a woman blogging about backyard chickens who said that she fed her girls some apple seeds and a few hours later discovered one dead.

Not the most definitive case of cause and effect but still, it made me nervous until I read through the following comments where a number of other chicken-holders mentioned that they fed their birds apple cores regularly (some in substantial amounts) with never an ill effect.

It was at this point that I started to wonder.

(Always the wondering.)

Is the bad reputation of apple seeds really due to the actual, tragic loss of scores of fruit loving dogs worldwide?  Or is it more the result of theoretical chemistry being applied to theoretical dogs in a way that theoretically harms them?

Where are all the bodies?  I need bodies.  And preferably not just an unlucky dog here or there with a rare disorder that predisposes it to amygdalin synthesis.  I need numbers of injured animals that are statistically significant enough to warrant picking out the seeds.

Dane’s been eating an abundant and steady supply of apple cores for seven years now with no signs of anything but occasional gas.  For that matter he scavenges a good daily dozen windfall peaches from under our backyard tree during the season and peach pits are supposed to be more toxic still.

And yet…he thrives.

(He will also graze tomatoes, cilantro, and spinach, dig up carrots and turnips, and chew zucchini to the stem given the chance, not to mention wolfing down small birds and animals.  He was feral and starving before the Humane Society finally caught him and I’m afraid seven years has not been long enough to erase those memories.  A pox on people who abandon helpless, frightened pets into the wild.)

I’m reluctant to curb one of his few great pleasures without compelling evidence that it’s absolutely necessary.  Is there somebody out there with first hand experience of apple seed toxicity in dogs?  Especially vets?  Or any veterinary journals with studies I can read?  I’d be grateful for any contributions.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

The Darling Slob

I just served up dinner for Dane the Mangy Rescue Mutt and had to laugh.  He was, as usual, beside himself with anticipation, and even more so because he saw me place the core of the apple I’d just been eating into his bowl before scooping his dog food in on top of it.

Apple cores have become a serious problem in our household, so much so that we can no longer eat an apple at all if Dane is near enough to hear the crunch.  We have to put him in a bedroom, or outside, or in the garage, because he has overactive salivary glands and, when stimulated, they produce enough drool to solve a small municipal water crisis.

And for some reason nothing…I repeat, nothing…stimulates his glands like an apple core.  Go figure.  It’s not so bad with popcorn or miscellaneous kitchen scraps.  He doesn’t do it for chicken skin, carrot ends, squash rinds, browned lettuce (lettuce!) or any of the other produce whittlings that I toss him while cooking.  But an apple core…a fucking apple core…triggers something in his perpetually starving little imagination that sends us into hazmat suits.

So we attempt retraining.  We no longer give him apple cores from our hands, right after the last bite.  No ho.  We take them out to the garage and place them into his out-of-reach dog bowl to be incorporated with his next meal.  We’re determined to teach him the value of delayed gratification no matter how much he dislikes the concept and, even though his dragging body/droop eared/tragic-eyed reproach is disconcerting, I think we’re making progress.

He dines in the garage and only in the garage.  Today’s dinner consisted of said apple core and dry kibbles with a spoonful of digestive enzyme powder dumped in a clump and then a generous drizzle of stinking salmon oil over all.  He gazed at me in adoration as I slopped it all together, prancing around and shaking his head a few times to make sure all the long drool tendrils wrapped firmly around his face and then, once I set the bowl down, offered up a small puddle of slime oblations to the garage floor while waiting for the actual command to eat.

He always does this.  Always.  I don’t know why it struck me as so funny today but it did.  Sometimes I have to shake my head and wonder why we love these ridiculous, slobbering, undignified creatures…who lick themselves and eat each other’s shit no less…so much, but there you have it.  Their disgusting habits even endear them to us…which is so weird I can’t even think about it.

But really, what in the world would I ever do without this guy?


copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Dane the Mangy Rescue Mutt And A Surprising Miracle With Homeopathics

Poor guy.  Poor us.  It’s been a struggle since May.

Dane is a big, black, mixed breed, Humane Society adoptee that we’ve had for (let me get the paperwork out to check) five and a half years now.  He’s almost seven years old and weighs in at over a hundred pounds.  He’s smart as a human toddler, playful as a puppy, imaginative (seriously…he pretends), loves children, kills small animals, is a mortal danger to cats, is cooperative and good natured, can’t get enough of people, and is constantly underfoot because he likes to be in on all the action (unless he’s sneaking tomatoes out in the garden at which point he becomes all but invisible).

He’s also had more medical problems than any dog I’ve ever owned.  We’ve dealt with everything from excessive drooling, incontinence, and hair loss to multiple accidents and epilepsy.  It’s always something with him.  Always.

But this year has been the worst.  He blew out his back knee in May, which was kind of catastrophic for both he and I because we haven’t been hiking together since.  His recovery has been complicated and slow, and I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that he’ll probably never be able to romp across hills and mountains the way he used to.  (Of course, said romping is probably what destroyed his knee in the first place, but still.)  If he can someday at least sniff and explore along trail-sides, I’ll consider us very lucky.

Around the same time our orthopedic problems were developing, we also lost control of his epileptic seizures.  Dane has grand mals and, not only was their frequency drastically increasing, they were beginning to consistently cluster in multiple events.  For those who don’t know, clusters are bad because they don’t give the brain enough time to cool off in between seizures, which can lead to brain injury and even death.  This was happening in spite of a drastic (and I mean drastic) increase in medication.  The seizures also contributed to re-injury of his leg, and the pain levels from that were growing increasingly difficult to manage.  He was losing his appetite, refusing to eat and, sometimes, even refusing to take his (many, many, many, many) meds.

The situation was clearly Spiraling Out Of Control (SOOC) and it was at this point I decided to change vets.  Old Doctor had been our vet for sixteen years so switching wasn’t easy.  However, other than surgeries and continuing to increase the dosage of his meds, (which clearly, to me anyway, wasn’t working), Old Doctor had no other options in his tool kit.  And when I asked him if he was willing to work with me in looking for other options, he told me no.

Wha…excuse me?  No?  Just…no

I was admittedly a little nonplussed but still appreciative of his honesty.

So I plunged back into the searching-for-a-new-vet world with a heavy focus on alternatives and eventually discovered our new vet, Dr. Out-There.  (You want options, baby?  I’ll give you OPTIONS…)  This woman was a banquet…a freaking cornucopia…of other possibilities, and after walking up and down the buffet line a few times I settled on a couple of new treatments to try.

You know what she suggested for his epilepsy?  A homeopathic remedy.  A small blue bottle of some kind of tincture with a dropper as delivery system.  Now, I’m not unfamiliar with homeopathics.  I’ve occasionally used them over the years on myself and the kids, with varying degrees of success.  But for advanced epilepsy?  Frankly, it seemed like a stretch.

However, I dutifully went home and administered the required dosage (plus a little more because one or two dropperfuls just didn’t seem like nearly enough) and, lo and behold, Dane has not had a seizure for 42 days!  Not one.  Which has floored me.  They were coming nine days apart in clusters but now?  Nothing.

(So far anyway.  Knock on wood.  I hope I’m not jinxing this by writing about it.)

It’s been like a miracle.  I can’t begin to describe the relief we’ve been feeling around this house since they stopped.  We’ve also had an orthopedic brace custom-made for his leg and it’s made a huge difference in terms of protecting his knee from re-injury and giving the joint support while it slowly heals.  (It’s also kind of sexy looking.  People keep walking up and telling us that, from a distance, they thought he had a bionic leg.)

The pain is still an issue but we’re able to manage it with a fairly low dose of acetaminophen.  And as for his appetite?  Well, it’s still off but it turns out that has nothing to do with pain.  Far from it.  No.  Our boy isn’t eating his dog food because he’s eating gallons of garden tomatoes instead.  (And yes, gallons is a literal measure.)

At first, I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t gotten one ripe tomato off of five heavily-bearing plants all summer long.  Then I started finding the chewed-on but uneaten green ones he left lying around because he’d eaten so many by that point he’d actually grown picky and would only eat the red ones.  (He’d turned into a connoisseur.) That was when I realized what was really going on.  He wasn’t hungry for his dog food because he was engorged from grazing in the garden.

Well this clearly had to stop so, after erecting a bewildering maze of barriers (which utterly failed), Dane was placed on strict house arrest with only monitored visits to the backyard.

But he’s still refusing to eat.  You see, he got used to the chicken bouillon and other moist and delicious tidbits we were putting in his food to try to get him to eat and now he’s not interested in plain dog food anymore.  He’s become a picky eater.  He walks up to the bowl, sniffs a couple times, then turns and walks away to the backdoor where he collapses and lies looking longingly out at the tomatoes.  (Did I mention he’s dramatic, too?)

But…ha ha!  Little does he know he’s dealing with a mother who nipped the picky eater tendency in the bud with her other two human children early on in their little lives.  This cunning mother has a technique called hunger and, given enough time, it always, always works.

I’ll admit that he’s still wining so far because I think he’s sneaking windfall apples back behind the straw bales when he’s supposed to be pooping.  But it doesn’t matter.  I’m patient.  Unlike Dane I know that, sooner or later, this other food source will dwindle and then, my friends, he’ll be at my mercy.

Oh yes.  He’ll eat his dog food again.  And like it.  This, I promise.

To close, here’s a little video of him in his better days. 

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Saving Valentina

And finally…on this blog devoted to talking about dying…here’s a story of something that didn’t die.  This big, beautiful girl came very close but was ultimately saved from drowning by a handful of people (who took a huge risk in doing so I might add.)

On Valentine’s Day earlier this year in the Sea of Cortes down in Mexico, Michael Fishbach was in a small boat with his family and a couple of friends when they came upon a young, humpback whale severely entangled in fisherman’s netting.  At first she appeared to be dead.  But then they saw her exhale and realized she was exhausted and frightened but still alive.  Her tail was weighted down about fifteen feet by all the fishing gear, both pectoral fins were pinned to her sides, and the net went up over her back forward of the dorsal fin.  I can only imagine the thrashing and rolling she must have initially executed in her attempts to get clear of the net that led to so severe an entanglement, or the terror she must have experienced as it tightened around her.

At this point they had to decide whether they were going to watch helplessly as she slowly drowned or try and help her.  Amazingly, as you’ll see in the video, Michael slipped on his snorkel, grabbed the one small knife they had in the boat, and swam slowly over to where she was floating to assess the situation.

At this point in the video I heard a weighty, entangling, and suffocating voice in my own head begin it’s droning about how stupid and dangerous it was for him to even try, but then the girl with wild hair inside me who adores the sea slipped past and ran to the edge of the boat, pumping her hand in the air and cheering Michael on.

Because sometimes safety just isn’t the most important thing.

What follows over the next few hours is a series of courageous attempts and lucky accidents that lead to the saving of a gigantic, and unspeakably precious, young life.  There were so many things that could have gone wrong, things that would have made the situation far more tragic than it already was.  But surprisingly, none of those things happened which confirms yet again what my grey and grizzled father–career warrior, survivor of three major wars, and witness to countless weird and miraculous events on the battlefield–has always told me:

Dia, if it’s your time to die then it’s your time to die, and nothing can save you.  But if it’s not your time to die then it’s just not, and nothing…nothing…can kill you.

Clearly, it wasn’t anybody’s time to die in the Sea of Cortez last Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the video, Saving Valentina, if you get the chance.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Shark Whisperer

I just stumbled across this three minute, somewhat-unnerving-yet-deeply-moving video of Christina Zenato, a woman diver, interacting with sharks down in the Bahamas.  Frankly, I didn’t believe this kind of gentle relationship was even possible and yet here it is anyway.  Sometimes it feels so good to be wrong.

Disclaimer:  Evidently she’s a pro, so I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home. 

What fascinated me most was what happened in my brain while I watched.  I swear I could feel it rewiring.  Some deep and unquestioned prejudice against sharks took a hit here.  Big time.

(Which was strange, because I thought I was already fairly enlightened in my attitude toward sharks.  The hubster feels a deep affinity for them and his love for them has rubbed off on me over time, so it was surprising to discover these deep underlying layers of stereotype still lurking in the shadowy recesses of my mind.)

Initially, I admit I thought this woman was an idiot, especially when she started feeding them by hand.  But by the end I realized she has a much fuller understanding of sharks than I do, based on actual, nourishing, beautiful and real life interactions with them.   Something I totally lack…which is probably why my bias has thrived.

Prejudice is funny that way, isn’t it?  It feeds on unfamiliarity.  It doesn’t tend to fare as well when faced with living, breathing, sentient beings.

(Stray thought: Believing in stereotypes is like eating cheap carbs.  They’re like white bread, candy, and soda pop for the mind, not very healthy but what a rush!   Relationships with living, flesh and blood creatures, on the other hand, are more like whole grains; harder and slower to digest but far more nourishing in the long run.)

Once again I’m reminded that all creatures tend to respond positively to understanding, patience, respect, and intelligent handling.  I don’t know why I keep falling back into the default belief that some creatures (including some humans) are impervious to kindness and love…that monsters are real.  That kind of early conditioning is hard to shake I guess.

The video is only a couple minutes long.  If you get the chance I highly recommend it.  It’s soothing and inspiring.

About the technique she employs at the end of the video:  “Practicing a little known technique of rubbing and manipulating her fingers across the ampullae of Lorenzini, the visible dots [electro-receptive sensory organs] all around a shark’s head and face, she induces a tonic immobility. To the observer, this looks like a shark falling asleep right in her lap.”  

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Refugee Spiders Helping To Protect Pakistanis From Malaria

Here’s an odd and wonderful story.

Wired UK posted an article today about one of the stranger consequences of the major flooding that took place in Pakistan in 2010.  Evidently, there are submerged areas of the country where the threatened spider population took to the trees and spun draping canopies of webbing which completely cover them.  If you love great photography go take a look at the eerie, beautiful pictures included with the article.

But the most amazing part of the story is the report from Britain’s Department for International Development who is currently working there in Pakistan.  They say there are far fewer malaria carrying mosquitoes in the vicinity of these trees, in spite of the standing, stagnant water surrounding them.

The concentrated spider populations are helping to control the burgeoning mosquito population.  How’s that for a lovely side effect?  This strange partnership between trees and spiders is creating living, arboreal shields against disease for the people living nearby.

I love this; how tragedy can transform a creature we usually regard as a danger and/or a household pest into a profound gift of protection.   I’ll remember this the next time I pick up a shoe to crush one, and instead catch it in a jar and place it carefully outside…in honor of its little, eight-footed Pakistani brethren who are (however unintentionally) protecting my own devastated and suffering brethren across the world.

One small way of gratefully participating in the web of life.  (No pun intended.)

Photo UK Department for International Development

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Squirrels and Spring: The War Begins Anew

The Enemy

The little shits.  I just discovered they’ve gone and bitten most of the flower buds off the espaliered apple and pear trees I planted three years ago.  This…the fourth year…would have been my first to actually get some fruit off these trees, but now?  There will be nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.

No flowers, no fruit.  I’m beaten before the season even started.

Squirrels.  I hate them again.  I spit to the side after saying their name.  I bite my nails at them, chop my elbow and flick my fingers in the air.    I suddenly remember everything they did to the garden last year (every year!) and abhor them with the same passionate loathing I feel in the beginning of each new spring.  My animosity towards them resurrects like some dark and toxic perennial plant, the longer days and increasing warmth calling it forth from its long, winter dormancy.  I recently received a wondrous book for my birthday, The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale, and I turn now to look up hatred because this terrible lust for vengeance I feel requires long and sharpened words on which to impale the little, rodent horrors.

Malevolent, bitter, venomous, antipathy. They are abominations. An execration upon the land. And I hold them, my enemies, in eternal aversion and disaffection.

Take that.

It’s so strange, how this resumption of hostilities takes me by surprise every year.  I’m not sure how it happens but, every winter, I seem to mysteriously forget the previous year’s vandalism and begin to think they’re cute again.  Probably because they are, with their flicking tails and miniature hands and adorable, pointed little faces.  During the season of Long Cold I somehow forget how they laid waste to my peach harvest and bit the heads off every last sunflower and ate my bean sprouts just as they were emerging above ground.  The fact that they gnawed vast patches of bark off our trees and dug up the potted plants and chewed big holes in the tool shed eaves slips my mind and instead, I enjoy watching them hop around the porch, nosing among the fallen bird seed and coming up to peek at me through the sliding glass door.

In winter they’re like a meditation, these tiny gifts of life itself.  A reverie.  A delight.  A lovely, hope-filled reprieve from an otherwise bleak and dreary  garden hibernation.  And then?  Spring comes…poof!…and their true nature reveals itself as they start mindlessly destroying things like the furry, four-footed Jekyll and Hydes they are.  Warm and fuzzy one second, then fanged and slavering the next.

So the battle resumes.  Time to go load up on packages of carpet tack strips to tie along the branches of the peach tree and run some electric wire along anything espaliered.  I need to make more muslin bags to cover the grape clusters as the gray monsters chewed holes through a majority of them last year, but I think I still have enough chicken wire to protect the veggie beds until the seedlings reach a stage where they’re no longer so enticing.

And last but not least, as the most important weapon in my arsenal, I have the squirrel-catapult-is-awful-yet-we-can’t-look-away video.  (Click top video if you, too, need release.) And just so you know, this time of year I make no apology (none!) for laughing oh-so-hysterically when I watch this.  Firstly because, as I mentioned in last year’s squirrel rant, I once saw one fall fifty feet out of a tree in our backyard, stand up, brush its pants off, and light a cigarette.  You can’t injure these things.  C’est impossible. But second and more important, even the squirrels are glad I have an alternate outlet for the violent emotions I feel towards them right now.

copyright 2011 Dia Osborn

Lovely, lovely birds

We have a little flocking thing going on out under the bird feeder right now.  Little red headed finch-like birds, some Oregon juncos with full black foliage on their heads that makes them look like tiny lions, a couple turtledoves, and then three medium-sized black birds with red bars on their shoulders, kind of like red-wing blackbirds but smaller and sleeker.  The scene reminds me of Noah’s ark, only with just birds.  And no boat.  Or water.  Or disaster.

Nicer actually.

They flew away in a panic when I got up to grab the camera so I took a photo of this little fellow instead.  Ceramic Blue Bird with no feet, who kind of reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit that way.  Only a bird.  And harder.  And breakable.   I forgot and left it on the ground when I was done and now an Oregon Junco-like-a-lion hopped up to peck at the sunflower seed shells on the ground next to it.   I suspect that Ceramic Blue Bird wants to hop around and peck, too, but can’t.  The no-feet thing again.

But I don’t care about that.  I think even imaginary birds are lovely.

“They’re Here…” Wolves Near Boise.

Gray Wolf

Well then.  Here’s an interesting development.  The news broke day before yesterday that two wolves took down a cow about a mile west of where I regularly take Dane up hiking in the hills.  Suddenly, the highly controversial subject of wolf reintroduction and management here in Idaho has come remarkably close to home.  (Our home.  About five miles to be exact.)

Residents of Eagle are a little uneasy right now, with some of those living north of town bringing in their horses and other livestock for protection.  The department responsible for dealing with problem wolves in Idaho is USDA Wildlife Services and so far, in spite of numerous flyovers, they haven’t been able to locate the two wolves believed to be responsible for killing the cow.

Which then begs the question:  Do I want to take Dane up there for his afternoon romp today?

Actually, I’m not really asking myself that.  Of course I’ll take him.  I’ve been hiking up in the mountains for years now, in all kinds of places where cougars, bears, and wolves  live.  Is there some risk?  Absolutely.  I’m not a big fan of denial as a risk management tool.  Do I mentally discount the horror of getting mauled and possibly killed and eaten by a wild animal?  Not at all.  While I’m a tree-hugger of sorts, I’ve never been the kind that romanticizes wild animals as either noble or cuddly.   I have a very healthy fear of big claws, strong jaws, and sharp teeth.

wolf skull (note the teeth)

In all likelihood if there was an attack, they’d probably go after Dane.  Wolves are traditionally timid around human beings so those kinds of attacks are extremely rare, but they attack dogs.  There’s definitely a greater risk for him than there is for me.  However, these two wolves are most likely juveniles striking out to find new territory and juveniles tend to be far less predictable than adults.  Cougar attacks on humans, which used to be relatively rare, have been growing in the last couple of decades as humans encroach further into wilderness areas, and the majority of the attacks are by juveniles.   So, while Dane’s risk is greater, I by no means get a free pass.

So here we are, suddenly standing on the shifting front line of the controversy, confronting the complex challenge of species reintroduction on a very, very personal level.  Me?  I love wolves.  But then the majority of people do.  Even the people who oppose their reintroduction admire and respect them.  They’re magnificent, beautiful, wild, and inspiring animals permanently woven into our history, mythology, and group unconscious.  The thought of a world without them is unsettling and unutterably sad.   Having said all that though, I don’t want Dane or I to be dead either.

And therein lies the paradox we’re all confronting, not just with wolves but with much of the ancient world we’ve inherited and are now changing on a massive scale.  I have no idea what the solutions to these kinds of problems will be, nor do I have any idea what the world will wind up looking like someday.  Right now I’m just concerned with getting my dog and I through our next excursion.  Today it’s my turn to figure out how to straddle this place where the past and future collide.

I think, at a time like this, it’s important to consider the big picture.  The truth is, Dane and I both live in a world every day with far greater risks than a wild animal attack.  (i.e. getting T-boned at an intersection, sickened from ecoli contamination in our food supply, or euthanized for attacking the neighborhood cats among other things.)  With all the risks that wilderness and wild things hold, civilization is no picnic either.  In fact, I think my chances are probably better facing a wolf in the foothills than a drunken slob hurtling down the interstate in a two-ton SUV.

But for now, Dane and I need to get going because I really don’t want to be hiking up there when it starts to get dark.  So I’ll  just throw on my boots, grab my bear spray, and we’re out of here. Dane and the valley (back behind) where the cow was killed.

copyright 2011 Dia Osborn

Dog Fumes

I don’t know what he ate but his inability to digest it could kill us.  You could swim in this smell.  Carve holes in it.  You could sew it into a coat and wear it to attract lobbyists.  I think it’s tinting the upholstery.  It’s that bad.  If you don’t hear from me within three days, suspect the worst.

(Image: Wikipedia)

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn

The $3,000 Cat Will Live

I went across the street to check on Tinkerbell this afternoon and am delighted to be able to give you the following update:

It’s been a little over a week since she was attacked and the old gal is looking terrific.  I mean, really.  Wow.  I looked it up to see how cat years translate into human ones and I can only hope I’ll look as good as she does after major surgery in my eighties.

The incision (which runs around roughly a third of her torso) is healing beautifully and she goes back to the vet tomorrow to have the staples out.  Evidently, Dane’s teeth didn’t actually puncture the skin so at least there’s no danger of infection there.  The damage was due to crushing and shaking and was mainly internal.  She’s been off of pain meds for a few days and, while she’s clearly still feeling tender, she’s not crying anymore or growling when someone reaches out to touch her.  They had a cone on her head at first but she’s been so good about not licking any of her wounds that they were able to take it off fairly quickly.  She can now climb up and down on Neighbor Son’s bed, where she sleeps, with the help of some makeshift stairs and she’s eating well.  And gloriously, there’s no more gurgling sounds when she breathes so the lung involvement is improving, too.

She was shaved over nearly half her body for the surgery but is being pretty good natured about how ridiculous it makes her look.  I’ve been worried all week that the trauma might radically change her personality.  She was a very sweet cat before the attack and in the first couple days afterwards she became suspicious and hostile.  But the fear and trauma seem to be slowly resolving as well and, while she looked pretty groggy while I was over there, she was also surprisingly affectionate.

She still refuses to go outside however, and Neighbor Lady fears that she may never be able to coax her out again, but I mean really…who can blame her?  If I thought there was a gigantic, black,  hairy, quick creature with fangs lurking outside my front door, waiting to crush and shake me to death the minute I stepped outside, I’d be doing take-out and Netflix till hell freezes over.  You go, girl.  Be strong.  Stay safe.

There’s even a little silver lining to the whole thing: she’s lost some weight from the ordeal which is a good thing since she was fat as a pillow before Dane got a hold of her.  Overall, Tinkerbell is doing far, far better than we, as Dane the Cat Mauler’s owners, have any right to expect.  She’s still got some healing work ahead of her but Neighbor Lady seems to think she’s going to be just fine.

I sat on the bed to pet her for a while and the little darling was purring like a motorboat and rubbing her head against my hand whenever I stopped.  She bore me absolutely no malice whatsoever, even though it was our negligence that caused the whole thing, and frankly, it made me feel like shit.  Smaller than shit.  Suddenly, I realized that up until that moment I’d just been thinking about her as a generic kind of every-cat.  That cat.  And as a dog-not-cat person it meant that, other than the generic compassion I feel for all animals, I didn’t really care.  Even though Tinkerbell is the one who bore the brunt of the assault and suffered all the pain, fear, and indignity it entailed, all my concern was really for Neighbor Lady.

Actually, if I was to be really honest, my concern has only been about a quarter for Neighbor Lady and the rest for us.  (There they are in all their glory again, Ladies and Gentlemen…Wheedle and Cheat.)

But sitting there looking down into her cat eyes, that were so full of genuine affection and good will as they gazed back up into mine, (not the slightest shadow of harm or grudge to be seen), I kind of fell in love with her on the spot.  Powie! Just like that.  I melted and suddenly felt a wave of remorse that was truly, truly painful.  Up until that moment (even with a $3400 vet bill) I hadn’t really gotten it, how bad we’d been as dog owners. Oh, I knew we were legally responsible and financially responsible and I knew we had a responsibility as good neighbors to step up to the plate.  But somehow I didn’t get the suffering.  I just didn’t understand until Tink looked up at me with those big, innocent eyes and suddenly I was aghast at my cavalier attitude.

Neighbor Lady joked with me a couple of times about our $3,000 cat and I looked up at her and told her Yeah. I feel like we’re her godparents now. She laughed and I laughed along with her so she wouldn’t realize I was serious as a heart attack.  I do feel like I’m responsible for her in some way now.  I want her to live to be twenty-five years old, gray, and crippled so I can keep going back over, rubbing her head, and hearing her purr.

I love that cat.

copyright 2010 Dia Osborn